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Monday, December 12, 2011

No response

I haven't received any response from the donor I contacted about a week ago. As the days pass I'm more and more certain I will never hear from him. I am disappointed but not as dejected as I thought I would be. Sending the note gave me an odd sense of closure. My guess is that if he did not donate he would have sent a quick one line note saying "Sorry, you have the wrong person." So perhaps no response is a good response.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Do I Want the Sperm Donor to Say?

The search for my biological father has entailed writing some extremely awkward notes to potential matches. Via DNA testing, I recently discovered the best potential match I’ve come across to date. Since e-mailing him yesterday I realize that while I often contemplate my initial contact, I rarely think about his response. This time around, however, I find myself asking, “What do I WANT him to say?”
I'm expecting the worse case scenario: no response. Imagining total rejection is relatively easy but envisioning a correspondence with him is more complicated. What am I expecting from this person? Will I be disappointed? What if rather than silence he returns anger or aggression?  To distract my attention from an empty inbox I decided to have a go at the "best case scenario." His note would read: 
Dear J----,
In response to your question yes, I did donate sperm in 1980 at Lenox Hill Hospital. Perhaps we should talk about what steps are involved in confirming our relation.
If we are related I am very glad to hear from you and see your picture. After donating all those years ago I’ve often wondered if you were out there and what you looked like. It’s a delight to find out you are a beautiful and successful women.
I was young and inexperienced when I donated and in retrospect I may not have made the best decision. My thinking was that I was helping some great couple have a family at a time when having my own children was far off.
I now have a family and my wife is aware I donated sperm when I was young. If we confirm our relation I’d like very much for you to meet my family down the road after I have explained this a bit to my children.
All the Best,
Your Sperm Donor
Of course, the chances of receiving such a positive response are slim. I was surprised I was comforted by the idea he had thought of me and wondered what I looked like. One of the most troubling aspects of anonymous sperm donation is that it’s possible he may not know I exist. On the bright side, even if he chooses not to respond I will know he is  at least aware that I am out there.
Also, while I don’t feel that I am personally “a mistake“ I would be moved if he admitted he had not made the best decision. This is not because I am looking for someone to blame, its because hearing him take some accountability for the effect his decision had on my life would be validating. Half of the tumult of being the product of an anonymous donor is that its somewhat socially-unacceptable to mourn or be angry. As a result, we are awash in emotions for which we feel great shame .

I think wanting an apology is not about being ungrateful for the gift of life but having your loss and pain acknowledged.   Sometimes I think my mother feels that if she admitted her choice to be inseminated by an anonymous donor wasn’t the best idea, it means she was directly responsible for her child’s pain. I can’t speak for all donor-conceived adults out there but  at least for me this isn’t how I would perceive an apology. I would feel relieved and acknowledged if she told me “while I have no regrets on having you, it might not have been the best idea to use an anonymous donor. I didn’t realize at the time you would want to know him.”
Finally knowing that his family is aware and comfortable with his donation would be heartening. Based on the donors I have come to know and have read about,  it is not likely the donor will have shared the truth with his family. I wouldn’t expect him to have told his children unless they were my age but I would hope his wife was aware. I often wonder how a donor rationalizes anonymous donation as ok if it’s not something they are comfortable sharing with their family. If an act is so troubling and or shameful, you can't share it with your spouse or parents it’s likely not the best plan of action.
My inbox is still empty, which is troubling.  I'll keep my fingers crossed for the best case scenario....or close to it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Feeling Lonely With Yourself

Washing my hands in front of a three-way mirror in one of those swanky NY hotel bathrooms, I caught that weird angle of my face looking elsewhere.  I typically use three-way mirrors to make sure clothes aren't too tight on the derrière, but this was an accidental glance. I saw what I look like to other people. and for a milli-second I didn't realize it was me. My profile has always perplexed me, in pictures especially, I often see a ghost lurking in my features. I look a lot like my mom but friends always remark that from the side I look different, like someone else.

My hands still wet and full of soap, I stared at the awkward reflection and thought to myself, "I must see 'him'." Thoughts like this often drift into my mind and then quickly exit, but on this occasion I got stuck and felt a mist of sadness fall over me. I saw this tall woman in her black dress, pearls and a somewhat serious gaze. I thought how sad it was that she would never get to know who her father was.....that she would not know his identity....or ever see his picture. I snapped back to reality and asked myself, "Is that really true?" My mind was like a bicycle with a chain that wasn't gripping the gears. I went a little blank but then realized, "yes it is true, it's extremely likely you will go to your grave having never known who your father was." A surreal moment.

As usual, I was having an emotional crisis at an incredibly inopportune time. There I was, gut wrenched as toilet bowls flushed behind me and a conference full of coworkers waited for my return. I packed the feeling in a small little box and pushed it to the back of mind...all the way behind the old boyfriends and failures I hate to think about. As a practice, I try not to have pity parties for myself -- especially in bathrooms. Being analytical tends to numb bad feelings but despite my best efforts, longing still catches me in vulnerable moments.

Since the bathroom episode I've had trouble talking and writing about donor conception. It feels like I have something caught in my throat. In the past, expressing my views on anonymous donation or engaging in debate with the donor-conceived community was invigorating. Writing especially was extremely cathartic; a way to capture conflicting feelings and process them. I might have been naive, but I felt I shared something valuable. Yet, lately I even find reading news on donor conception makes me feel a bit sad. I get a paragraph or two into an article and I can't concentrate. I avoid my laptop for fear of experiencing the guilt for not writing.


Only weeks ago my emotions hit a crescendo when my Family Finder  DNA results revealed a number of third cousins as well as an Eastern European heritage. I was filled with hope. For the first time in very, very long time, I felt less lost....less unknown. I've connected with many of my "third cousins," but sharing just great-great-grandparents isn't as definitive a link as one might think. The likelihood that anyone I've connected with has met glances with the ghost in my profile is slim to none.

This truth is neither surprising nor unrealistic so I'm not sure why it's suddenly occurring to me. Nonetheless, it feels like a sudden, and somewhat heart-breaking loss.

I don't really talk much about it on this blog, but I don't have the best relationship with the father that raised me. I'm not sure why I'm mentioning this now, but somehow in my mind its all connected to the feeling of deep loss. Thirty years ago my father and mother decided to create a family bound by a painful secret. They agreed to conceal the nature of my conception as their doctor had instructed (though my mom told me at 23, but that is another story.) My dad has some great qualities and he was nice sometimes but for the most part my memories of him were of fear. I remember feeling like I couldn't breath when I heard him come home from work. He was emotionally, verbally and sometimes physically abusive to my brother and I throughout our lives. At risk of over-simplifing what is an incredibly complex story of pain and denial, I believe my brother and I were the personification of what he perceived to be his greatest failure: the inability, as a man, to produce a child. What's more, he was completely emotionally unavailable. Sometimes fearing him was an odd and dysfunctional way to feel connected to him.

To this day, I conceal the nature of my conception from all of my extended family members so that he doesn't suffer the pain and embarrassment of them knowing he is sterile. Sometimes I forget the truth.  Other times, in random and inopportune moments, the truth feels like a hammock full of bricks weighing down my heart. My mother says letting others know the truth would "destroy him." Throughout my twenties, despite his behavior towards myself and my brother, I felt overwhelmingly sorry for him. How could I be so ungrateful as to want to share the nature of my identity with close family members? He may have been detached and often downright mean, but he stayed, he went to work, he told people he was my "Dad." How could I be such a selfish child? Of course, my mother and father's emotional well-being should take priority over my own.

I think a lot of people with opinions on anonymous sperm donation operate under the assumption that the children are going to homes where they are wanted so very much. The typical pro-donor conception argument involves sperm being given away by one man who doesn't want to father a child, to a man that does ...a man, that will love those children like his own. Though few are willing to admit it, this isn't always the case. Some men decide on donor conception without knowing what their reaction will be and some men have reservations but feel pressured by the pleading look on the face of a wife that deeply wants to be a mother. 

Nonetheless, people will still contend that those DC children unhappy with their situation should get over their feelings of loss and be grateful for life. 

At least right now, I find it hard to be grateful for my parents decisions.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Outsourcing Surrogacy to India?

I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. I need to run over it in my mind a bit.
'm not concerned by the parents disability or sexuality. I am, however, having trouble with "outsourcing" motherhood. In the clip, they talk about cost and competition with Thailand like its the manufactured goods trade. From the shots in the video, the children are clearly related to their Indian surrogate. They will grow up so far away from one piece of their genetic heritage. On the other hand the will likely grow up in far better economic circumstances with more opportunity. I wonder how they will feel 20, 30 years from now. At least they will have each other.


http://ibnlive.in.com/news/deaf-mute-gay-couple-becomes-new-parents/160062-3.html

Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilySperm DonorPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertility

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dirty Tweets, Sperm Donation and other forms of Detachment

In an opinion piece called  Dirty Tweets, Sperm Donation and other forms of Detachment. on Technorati, I detail how Weinergate struck a cord in the search for my sperm donor. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.




There was also an interesting piece in the NY Times on a gay couple and single mom co-parenting after sperm donation: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/nyregion/an-american-family-mom-sperm-donor-lover-child.html

Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Would I Have Wanted to Tell My Mother Before She Conceived?


A recent comment and inquiry on my blog inspired a response too long to respond in comment so I opted to make it a post. 
The Comment:

On June 16, Hang on Little Gertie wrote...
Visit "Hang On Little Gertie" the Blog
Hello, I've found your blog to be a very good and informative but difficult read for me. After 8 years of talking and research (including meeting with one of the UK's leading psychologists and a woman who has done the longest ever research project into the health and wellbeing of the children of donors and same-sex couples - click here - ie this has been a very well researched decision!) a year ago my partner and I went to a clinic in London in order to attempt to have a baby with a sperm donor. My partner then left me just before our first attempt and a year on I am ready to have another go. My partner and I were very welcoming of the change in UK law to rule out anonymous sperm donors (although obviously it has meant a vast reduction in the number of available donors). I just wondered what your thoughts were on this issue. I also wondered what your thoughts were on the amount of information that should/shouldn't be given to prospective parents. As an individual I find the range of choice overwhelming but as the hopeful parent of a future child I'm persuaded to think that the more information the better until that child is old enough to decide whether or not they want to seek contact with the donor (and then the clinic would pass on the contact information)? 
I admire and respect the way you have articulated your thoughts and feelings in this blog and would be really interested to know your thoughts.

My Response:
Hi there “Hang on Little Gertie”  - Thanks so much for your candor and sharing. Already that tells me you are approaching the situation in an open and healthy manner. I'm very touched that you have asked my opinion. It is a caring and truly maternal gesture that speaks volumes about how much you already care about your future child.
As I have said before, my gut wants to say “don’t do it,” but I’ve come to the realization those worlds are rarely heeded. I more effective in helping future DC children by advising on what I would deem best-case scenarios. While I don’t think any AI scenario is ideal, if chosen parents should know as much as possible about donors. When possible they should seek donors willing to have some limited contact with the child. I know it is harder to find non-anonymous donors and even more difficult to find donors willing to keep in touch, but this isn't your child's challenge or problem. Since you want a child, you should take on the responsibility of seeking the very best conception scenario. 
I know this is a long shot, but perhaps there is a gay male couple that needs an egg donor and would be willing to provide their sperm to a lesbian couple as well as be accessible to the child down the road. I actually know of two couples that did this and it has worked out rather well, creating a somewhat unique extended family. Some people gasp when I say this....'how can I give my eggs/sperm away?" but that's completely hypocritical to me. How is it not okay to donate your eggs to another family but it is ok to use another anonymous man's sperm?
More generally, I've often thought about what I would ask of or share with my mother If I could rewind and travel back in time 30 years before she conceived.  Here are two things that come to mind immediately.
1- Acceptance and Validation of Loss - My mother's father died when she was 14 and it was a pivotal moment in her life. Regardless of how much a child knows about their parent or the means by which they loose a parent, the child feels a loss. I would have asked to her to think of her own experience of loss and come to terms with some of her feelings in preparation for my arrival.
If she were more accepting and aware of the loss that I would suffer when I realized I did not have access to my genetic father she could have better related to my pain. She would also have been more prepared to support me when I felt as if someone had died in the early years after I first learned the truth. Even in "right to know" situations where the donor's identity in not concealed, the child can feel they have missed out on having that individual in their life, or still be unable to locate the parent.  AI parents react negatively when I explain that all of the DC peers I have encountered universally experience some sense of loss at some point after learning the truth. It's as if the parents don't want to believe any decision they made could create pain for their children, which I can understand. Some of my DC peers have mother's who still disagree with their children to this day about how they "should feel."  However, I believe if you do not deny your child’s loss, opting instead to accept and support, you validate your child's feelings making them feel less alone. 
Imagine I were to go up to a very small child who just lost a parent they only had 2 or 3 years of their life to know and told them shouldn't feel upset because I had remarried. Imagine if I told them they were being ungrateful in their tears because they had a father and the father that died wasn't their real father. I bring forth this troubling imagery not to manipulate but to depict a realistic scenario of loss. AI can enable an unhealthy level of detachment from kinship and emotion. Just because you will not know the face of your child's biological father and just because a child is fathered by an individual who chose not to be in their lives does NOT invalidate their need to grieve or your responsibility to support them. 
If we can work together as a community of DC kids and parents to acknowledge this loss and avoid the denial that runs rampant in the media and online, we’ll all move forward in a more positive direction.
2 - Avoid Secrecy and Shame - A number of studies, including this one, have pointed out it is best to tell children early about the nature of their conception. This is where being a single mother or gay or lesbian couple is more positive because the lack of a biological parent is evident and must be explained. My mother and father like many other heterosexual couples were told to conceal the truth. This set the stage for secrecy, shame and eventual betrayal. Secrets are insidious forces that fester in the creases and corners of family relationships and burden your child. Be as honest as possible to your child, sharing age appropriate information as soon as you can. They should bare as little burden of shame and secrecy as possible.
I could definitely write more but as I have a day job to keep, I will need to wrap it up here :)  Please feel free to comment in response or email me at girlconceived@gmail.com with any other questions you may have. In addition, I recently added a few of my responses to commonly asked questions on my Parent’s Dealing with Infertility page.
Again I can’t express enough how much I value the opinions and insights of parents considering AI. In many ways it allows me to engage in discourse I feel I was in some ways denied and offers great satisfaction and peace. 
So, thank you. I wish you the best in your endeavors.
Sincerely,
Girl Conceived


UPDATE - A response from LittleGertie can be found on her blog at http://hangonlittlegertie.blogspot.com/2011/06/unexpected-connections-in-daily-life.html




Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The "Jewish Thing"

Since sharing the discovery of half of my ancestry via DNA testing, I'm surprised at the overwhelming interest in the "Jewish thing."  A number of friends, some Jewish, want to know how I feel about the "Jewish thing." Other's ask, "does your Mom know about the "Jewish thing?" Which yes, she does and oh boy that's a fun story for a later post. Still others shake their heads in understanding as if something has been explained or finally makes sense ....saying, "you know the 'Jewish thing' explains a lot."

It's all made me wonder A- what is the "Jewish thing" and B- how does it explain anything at all? It's as if the religious heritage of my distant cousins is a tangible carnival item sitting in the room when we speak. Typically I'm excited and share the vast information about ancestors from Russia, Lithuania and the Ukraine. When I offhandedly mention that these ancestors were Jewish there is a pause for a moment like I've taken out the "Jewish thing" and put it on the table.  I imagine it to be some kind of intricately decorated blue vase or something like that.....they are suddenly interested.....their eyes widen...wow the "Jewish thing."

I'm not disappointed about this new religious heritage, I just don't get the fascination with this very small piece of my very complex identity. Maybe it's just that I'm less surprised than my friends. Let's be honest here. My mother was inseminated in NYC by an intern at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. She requested a Polish donor with brown hair and eyes.  Ahem.......um yeah......there was a very high likelihood the gentleman was Jewish. Let's get real, I would be surprised if he was not Jewish.

Having grown up in NYC, I have many, many Jewish friends from childhood up through college to present and I've never heard of the the "Jewish thing." The closest thing I came across to the "Jewish thing" was when a good girlfriend of mine started dating a Protestant guy and other mutual friends would say, "well it won't last long, there is the Jewish thing." Suddenly, Judaism was a focus, an elephant in the room.

As a kid I can remember countless times I wished to be Jewish.  Most of the Jewish kids I knew were incredibly gifted with highly educated, very successful families. I assumed that was part of being Jewish. I fully acknowledge I was stereotyping but children are simplistic and this was a positive stereotype (so cut me a little slack before sending me hate mail.) I found Judaism far more mystical and exciting than the Catholicism in which I was raised (again here.... a child's viewpoint.... not an incentive to send me an email asking "why I hate Catholicism") I'll never forget the time when at about six, I nearly gave my VERY Catholic Grandmother a heart attack, reciting a Jewish prayer in Hebrew a friend had taught me at the park.

But back to the greater issue here. It's not that I'm not excited about this new world to explore. I just don't get the intense fascination with it or the assumption that I'm now magically Jewish.
Being Jewish, at least to me, is not about DNA. Being Jewish is about beautiful religious traditions, culture and a vast, trying history you learn and discover as you are raised.  You can't get the "Jewish thing" just by being born, it has to be given to you. When my biological father released sperm from his body into a cup and detached from it (and me) he took away the Jewish thing. That is unfortunate.

This leads me to believe that the fascination with the "Jewish thing" has more to do with the "sperm donor thing." What I'm trying, successfully or unsuccessfully, to get at here is that the parcels of  inheritance are very blurry when it comes to anonymous sperm donation. What the sperm donor does and does not bestow upon you is highly debatable. The letters and patterns of my DNA genome spread across the table cannot describe the shape of my ancestors faces, they cannot tell me the stories of the women before me that made their way across an ocean and they definitely cannot communicate the essence of what it means to be Jewish.

So that leads me to ask you, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, what do you think about the Jewish thing?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Am I Absorbed or Obsessed?

There is such a fine line between being passionately absorbed and dysfunctionally obsessed. Since I received my Family Finder DNA results I've found myself fixated on downloading and analyzing the lists of  genetic relatives. Even though its been a few days since I have received the results, every time I log in, I get a little high. I feel my mouth curl into a smile and my heart races a little. I look at the 100s of names....Adler....Goldstein....Mitchell and I am in awe. I cannot believe after 30 years of excepting that half of my identity would remain unknown forever, I received this tiny glimpse into the unknown.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Complicated Web of Family....Found?

I almost broke my neck sliding on a rug in a frantic dash to the laptop in my bedroom. Minutes earlier I'd received a note on my BlackBerry while watching some mindless reality TV. A donor-concevied friend had gotten her Family Finder results early and they were online. She suspected mine were too. The DNA sample she provided had uncovered tons of 2nd and 3rd cousins all likely related to her unknown sperm donor.

I sent my DNA kit around the same time so the note made my heart skip a beat. "Laptop" was the first thing I thought. "Need to get to laptop." I vibrated with an energy I can only remember from childhood in the early-morning hours before Christmas, when I'd float down the stairs with anticipation.

I jumped up from the couch, into the hallway and caught the rug on my turn into the bedroom. After I hit the floor, I scrambled back up and calm myself enough to locate the laptop. I grabbed it and plopped on the bed. Passwords and kit numbers.....dammit....why does everything have to be locked down these days? It's life's cruel joke that as my short term memory wains with age I must simultaneously amass more and more random usernames and passwords. 

Making matters worse, my brain lacked its normal processing capacity already wrapped up in fantasies about what was to come. Suddenly I understood why some men say their brains stop working when they are anticipating ...ahem....exciting events.

Finally I cracked the code and opened the site.  There they were.

"MATCHES" 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interesting Article About a Sperm Donor that Actually WANTS to be on a Birth Certificate

Interesting article out of Australia and I absolutely loved this quote:

''The paramount consideration when providing parentage/parenting orders is to protect the best interests of the child, not the expectations or interests of parents,'' a senior policy adviser at the group, Senthorun Raj, said.



Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilyParentingInternetPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertility

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Unfriendly Call with Lenox Hill Hospital

I am a pretty tough person but today I called Lenox Hill Hospital and for some reason I'm crying right now. I have been trying to get a list of medical interns at the hospital from 1980 to 1981 for a while and none of my emails have been answered. Earlier today I left a message for the Medical Affairs office in which I explained what I was looking for. I wanted to be honest, so I explained why. A few hours later I received a call back

"Hello" I said

A middle-aged female voice rich with irritation said, "Hello I am returning your call but you have the wrong number. We have nothing to do with sperm here and well, I am just calling to let you know that."

She did not even ask my name or provide her own, so it took me a minute to realize what the call was about.

I said "Oh, yes I wasn't calling about sperm donation, I was calling about a list of interns at the hospital from 1980-1981, which is public information according...."

She cut me off before I could speak "Well then you can get it somewhere else...I can't provide that information. I am just calling to tell you that you can't get that here, ok?!?!"

I started to think in my head "stupid, stupid, stupid........WHY did you let them know it was to find a sperm donor?"

I tried to explain calmly I only wanted a list and was by no means argumentative, but she got more aggravated and said "Listen I don't have the time to argue with you about this, ok, I can't violate peoples privacy like that. If you have a name I could tell you if he was here but a list, no, no, no...can't do that"

Why is it just assumed the donor's privacy far outweighs any right I have?

She raised her voice louder and louder and talked me down every moment I even made a sound. Then she hung up. The dial tone was like the sting after being slapped in the face.

I put the phone down on the counter and the kitchen was silent. I work from home and I could hear my blackberry vibrating with new emails across the room. I knew I had to compartmentalize. I had to put this away and get to work but I felt paralyzed. Literally..... frozen.

Sitting on the tile it was silent except for the hum of the refrigerator. Then, like the first sudden thunderclap in a storm, I burst out crying in the kitchen. Perhaps its that time of the month or something else, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I had to sit down and lean my head against the dishwasher. The crappy dishwasher.

It might be all the writing and research I am doing, all the stories I am hearing, all the frustration. I take it in and try to be a writer and journalist but it gathers inside and I feel the pain of the people I speak to. I get angry for them, I get disappointed for them, I get overwhelmed with emotion, and then I pull it together and go to work. This unexpected exchange just tipped the scale.

I pulled myself together a little and decided to come and write.

I don't know if I am angry or sad. The two feelings seem to mix together in this feeling of total frustration. There was something about her yelling at me, her nastiness that just makes me feel so deflated, so dumb. It isn't like I've never had someone be nasty to me, I live in NYC and work in technology sales, so trust me, I have a hard shell....but this was different.

It felt like a punch to the stomach. I think it was because I was vulnerable. I think she was striking at a piece of my life I keep close and hidden and I wasn't prepared to defend myself. What is more, I could not understand where the anger on her side came from. I was very polite and she could have acted like all the other people I called at Lenox Hill Hospital and just ignored me. Instead, something had fired her up. She had felt it necessary to call me up and tell me just how wrong my request was and how much it annoyed her. It felt personal. So goddamn personal.

Why is there so much animosity directed at those seeking this information? I've tapped into it before and I really don't understand.

Do you?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Canadian Ruling on Sperm Donation and DNA Kits Before Breakfast

Published by me a few minutes earlier, first, on Technorati:


Most people start the morning with coffee and eggs or cereal...I on the other hand started with a DNA kit.

"Welcome to the exciting world of genealogy by genetics!" proclaimed the Family Finder DNA kit.
I found it hard to get into the spirit of things in my washed-out pink robe and minor hangover from wine the night before. Was the exclamation point really necessary? I pictured some super dorky genetic scientist all excited typing the note in.....where do I have to mail this stupid thing again.....oh yeah, Texas. 
Well yippee-kay-yi-FREAKIN-yay....I get to search for my family via 3 huge Qtips and an envelope.  Joyful. 

My annoyance hadn't been instant because in my early morning stupor, it took a few minutes to read the line correctly...my eyes still trying to adjust to the light. Prior to pulling out the note I had stumbled a bit trying to pull that half-paper half......like, mega industrial-plastic envelop open. It suddenly ripped open, causing the three swabs to fly into the air and the three collection tubes to hit the ground with a 'tink' 'tink'..................'tink' The delay of the third tink was the result of one of the tubes with a bit more trajectory flying across the kitchen. God, my head hurt, what a stupid idea that third glass of merlot was...but I was celebrating.

The day prior I had gone out with friends after receiving news that a landmark Canadian Supreme Court ruling had overturned the laws that denied the children of anonymous sperm donors the same rights as adoptees. The ruling, in British Columbia, meant that "donor offspring" like me would not be denied the legal right to know the identity of their genetic parents - effectively banning anonymous sperm donation in the province.  We toasted to the progress but while change was approaching, it wasn't in the US yet.

I was left to try to use a genealogy site, designed as more of a high-cost novelty for those with spare time to chart their family trees, as means to locate my sperm donor. According to a post by a peer on her blog, in addition to learning whether I was really half Polish or not, I would receive a list of cousins and relatives already on the site. Relatives who could perhaps help me identify a medical intern that had donated his sperm in NYC about 30 years ago.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

British Woman Going to Denmark for Sperm

Amsterdam used to be the sole destination in the Netherlands to partake in certain products outlawed elsewhere in Europe. Now, in an story by Paul Henley for the BBC:   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13487687  we find Denmark has become a popular destination to procure a new highly-coveted substance: sperm.

It turns out that after the 2005 UK ruling which made anonymous sperm donation illegal in the UK, British women have been flocking to Denmark where anonymous sperm donation is still legal.

The article highlights the fact that anonymous sperm donation and insemination are truly a commodity-based industry just like any other from the diamond to oil trade. When a coveted item is prohibited or difficult to come by demands shift sending consumers to different markets and in some cases, laying the groundwork for illicit trade. If the recent Canadian ruling in British Columbia outlawing anonymous donation spreads across all the provinces, one wonders if the US will experience a similar onslaught of mother's seeking anonymously donated sperm.

Unlike diamonds and oil however, sperm is purchased with the goal of producing life. Human beings are involved in this "sperm economy."  What I don't understand, however, is why a similar article on people traveling to Africa to get a kidney would make people gasp.... aghast at the injustice of life (via organs) for money. Yet, when we are talking sperm trade, things are different. It's acceptable to travel to another country and buy genetic material in an arrangement which is detrimental to the child.

There is one major mistake in the story, it references multiple times a "shortage" of sperm in the UK and this is incorrect. There is plenty of sperm in the UK, it just isn't provided via anonymous donation. What mother's are flocking to Denmark for is the chance to create a life without the responsibility of providing access to their child's genetic heritage.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jennifer Aniston, Bill O'Reilly and the Hollywood Obsession with Artificial Insemination: Seriously?


When Jennifer Aniston and Bill O’Reilly are the voices of reason in a public debate there is cause for concern. While I don’t follow either of this unlikely pair, my “Sperm Donation” Google Alerts picked up a tiff between the two RE: Artificial Insemination and single motherhood. Preparing for the physical nausea I associated with O’Reilly commentary, I endeavored to investigate the alert. Turns out Jennifer Aniston’s movie, “The Switch” (formerly titled “The Baster” - yes, I know, we’ll discuss that ridiculousness later) is at the root of all the internet fodder. In an odd twist, this somewhat dated beef has been brought back to life in a variety of articles on the recent onslaught of movies about artificial insemination this year. Oy, you gotta love the internet.
The Switch
Apparently, O’Reilly feels the movie, in which Aniston’s single 40-something character opts for artificial insemination, idealizes single motherhood. Aniston then responded to O’Reilly in the press with a variety of comments regarding the benefits of artificial insemination, the lack of need for a man to be a mother, and the liberation of motherhood. All the things one might need to tell themselves when their ex-husband left them to have like 15 children with a woman previously known for dressing like a vampire and making out with her brother on TV. But I digress….she works for UNICEF now.
The debate and the movie are merely symptomatic of what has become a greater Hollywood and media obsession with artificial insemination. From to The Back-Up Plan with J. Lo, to the Academy Award-nominated The Kids Are Alright, to two independent films at the most recent Tribeca Film Festival; Hollywood is fully-fascinated. Unfortunately the obsession is focused almost exclusively on one of the most troubling and ethically-challenging types of artificial insemination: the anonymous kind.
Take for example the name change from the title of “The Baster” to the “The Switch” - and I must pause here for a moment to thank who ever made that decision.  Though, I’m already scarred from the horrible image of Aniston defiling a cooking utensil once warmly associated with Thanksgiving. But anyway, the name change points to a disinterest in the rather sterile and icky parts of artificial insemination. Instead, the interest and curiosity surround the anonymous donation, the unknown sperm, the “faceless” father, the football and fart-free “Invisible Man.”  This isn’t surprising because the majority of movies on artificial insemination were created or written from the perspective of donors and parents.  A group for which, the “faceless father” involved in artificial insemination is more of a practical solution than the cause of deep seeded identity crisis; as it is for so many of the children it creates.
Yet, why now? Why all these films all at once? Some contend that it’s the natural fallout from the “infertility epidemic” reaching a crescendo over the last 10 years. Others say it’s about the coercive effects of technology; anonymous sperm donation somehow entangled with growing social detachment via tools like Facebook and Foursquare. I’d argue is far less complex. It's all over because It’s not a secret anymore.

Lethal Secrets on My Reading List and the InFertility Tax Write Off

I'm doing some research for a new donor insemination series for Technorati and I came across this book on two other blogger sites. Apparently its about the secrets surrounding donor insemination and I am definitely picking it up. I will let you know what I think.

In other news a NY senator recently proposed a "Infertility" write off that would allow parents to write off infertility treatments. I am wondering if adoptees and donor offspring should get something similar for our trials and travesty....that DNA test I bought was pretty expensive.

More on this later....

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Is the Drive Through Sperm Bank Around the Corner

Article first published as Is the Drive-Through Sperm Bank Around The Corner? on Technorati by ME!

The term "Sperm collector" inspires some troubling mental images most of us could do without. Yet, we know at least one Chinese inventor spent some time on the idea. A Chinese Company called the Sanwe Medical Group recently launched such a contraption to speed the, ah-hem, “production” and collection of male sperm.

The machine, which looks like a cross between a podium and atm, runs for $2800 dollars and comes equip with everything you’d probably rather not imagine. From the etch-a-sketch like screen to play your favorite pornographic material to a rather ominous looking pink hole where all the action occurs, the tool makes the very private, very automatic. What’s more, it jettisons the already sterile and anonymous process of artificial insemination to new levels of Huxley-like detachment.

Called the “vagina machine” and “sperm donation taker” on various blogs across the Web, the product seems to be more interesting to teens and weird news purveyors then serious reproductive technology experts. Most of the humor-laced discussion is provoked by a 10 second you-tube video with close to 20,000 views since its release about a week ago. A man, or teen-ager (I couldn't really tell) watches the machine pump action and then sticks a finger in the hole....and that’s when I closed my browser.

The truth is while the you-tube video is certainly a new idea, the sperm collector isn’t. There are other’s on the market.

Still, the Sperm Collector made me curious about the state of infertility and artificial insemination in Asia. I mean, its hard to find any discussion of world news that doesn’t give some airplay to the “Chinese Takeover” the media is so fond of foreshadowing. Typically these cold-war like news stories have some compilation of statistics predicting “4 out of 5 people will be from Asia in the next 20 years” or “China will create 80 percent of the worlds goods.” Could China be poised for sperm donation domination?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who Am I Today?

There is a bright side to only seeing half the picture of who you are. You can always imagine and define the other half.  Whenever I’m challenged with something I imagine that my biological father had some great gift with which I too have been endowed. I think of this very industrious and anonymous sperm making a very long journey with an amazing gift just for me.

I can “fill in the blanks” with whatever gift would be most useful at the moment. If I’m nervous about a big presentation or speech at work, I fantasize a little to myself that aside from being a cardiac surgeon my sperm donor was a talented speaker..... and he gives amazing medical presentations all the time...the talent is in my blood! Or sometimes when I get writer’s block I tell myself the donor was a great writer and I too must have those skills deep inside.
To be honest, I do a lot of fantasizing about the identity of the donor. Not all of it is a self-serving motivational tool. A greater part of it is a futile attempt to quench an insatiable thirst for knowledge that I do not have.  I say “thirst” because the urge to know feels that instinctual, carnal, like an itch that my mind relentlessly and unsuccessfully tries to scratch. it's this sense that I need to lay my eyes on him, see him, so I can be whole. Imagining him is the only way to put my mind at peace.
I suspect my mother does a lot of fantasizing as well, though I’ve never really discussed it with her.  I mean, if you haven’t seen the face of the man that is fathering your child, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t naturally fill it in. 
I sense she is quite proud that the donor was a medical intern. It also leads her to believe I’ve been endowed with some type of heightened intelligence or knack for the scientific. While there is an element of this that really, really bothers me there is another piece of it that can pump up my self esteem when I need it. 
As with any psychological construct, the donor doesn’t have to be realistic or multi-dimensional, his total identity can exist only to serve whatever emotion needs to be fed. 
It makes me wonder if there isn’t an element of this at play for mother’s who undergo artificial insemination. The anonymity provides a “blank slate” or a “tabla rasa” of sorts on which you can project all kinds of thoughts and desires. Mates in reality are so much more disappointing. All men have flaws, many go bald, some drink...all seem to have a greater aptitude for flatulence than females :) 
Blogs of single women attempting to conceive via AI or raising children already conceived via AI are full of stories about men from prior relationships that just “weren’t right“ or “didn’t make the cut.”  Yet, many (dare I say most) deny that fantasy plays a role in the choice for AI.
Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good EnoughLori Gottlieb, a single mother via AI and author of the controversial essay, “Marry Him”  got lambasted by women across the internet for making the argument single woman who want a family should settle for “Mr. Good Enough.”  She wasn’t commenting on AI, but on the link between some struggles of single motherhood and her previous unwillingness “to settle” for a less than perfect mate earlier in her life (she later expanded this argument in her book "Marry Him".) I bring it up because she highlights the “fantasy” so many women have a the perfect mate. Gottlieb writes:
“A female friend who broke up with a guy because he “didn’t like to read” and who is now, too, a single mom (with, ironically, no time to read herself) similarly felt no regrets—at first. At the time, she couldn’t imagine settling, but here’s the Catch-22: “If I’d settled at 39,” she said, “I always would have had the fantasy that something better exists out there. Now I know better. Either way, I was screwed.”
When AI is the chosen course of action for single mothers, anonymous donation leaves room to make the donor the “something better” that “exists out there.” While I’m not contending this element of "sperm fantasy" is always conscious...it’s pretty hard to argue that it plays no part in the the AI experience.
All this fantasy however is a slippery slope. For me, it’s a constant struggle to figure out exactly which part is “the other.” I compare myself, my mother and my brother all the time to sort out what is the same and what is different.  Beyond basic physical traits it’s the difference in personality and intellect that are most interesting but so much harder to figure it out. Personality and intellect are so complex they don’t easily offer themselves to deconstruction - letting you put your sense of humor in the “mom” basket and knack for math in the “dad” basket.
Geez, the “dad” basket. God.....if it were only that simple.


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Thursday, April 28, 2011

This Isn't Just How "I" Feel

I have a knack for meeting parents with children conceived via artificial insemination in random moments. Not surprisingly, a few days ago I spent 12 hours on a transatlantic flight with the mother of a child born through artificial insemination.

Her eyes accidentally caught the title of an article on donor offspring I was reading and you could immediately feel the energy shift. We went from two people preoccupied with those first minutes before a flight, putting things away, settling in, to her barely moving and clearly focused on me.
I kept reading, but through the corner of my eye I could see her eyes quickly darting around to my other items, my clothing, my books....trying to investigate quickly..."who is she?" We sat quietly until about 30 minutes after takeoff, when she exploded with a question.

"Are you interested in artificial insemination?" she asked.

It was as if she had been holding it in for as long as she could and all that suppression had given her words the propulsion of a rock from a slingshot.

Literally, seconds earlier, the flight attendant stopped to ask, "would you like some water?" I had to laugh because this follow up question just sounded so random....
 
"Are you interested in artificial insemination?"
 
....ah yeah........"yes actually, would you happen to have an sperm on you that I could have? I'd like to go into the bathroom and inseminate myself once the seat belt sign goes off. you know, join the mile high AI club...."  - Just kidding

Anyway I explained that yes I was and asked why she was so interested. Now as an aside here (and I promise I will be back to the story in just a second) what strikes me as an notable contrast between the parents of donor offspring and the offspring themselves is how eager the majority of parents involved in AI are to chat and connect in public. On the flip side, while I "hear" the voices of many donors online I don't normally meet them in public and have the "hey your dad is a donor too? whaddya know?" kind of moments.

As donor offspring, we are typically far more anonymous, cautious and afraid of how our "secret" will effect others.  We have typically been brought up in families where the nature of our conception is the source of great pain and sometimes intense secrecy. It's not something your parents reveal to you and say, "go on now honey.....go play and tell your friends....then we'll have a my daddy is a donor party!...." But I digress.

I think she assumed that I was a mother that wanted to conceive. When I explained I was instead the conceived, I thought her eyes might just pop out of her head and roll back through the isle. We sat for a moment looking at each other.

"Really," she said

"Yes, Really," I said

"Really" she said again...this was getting ridiculous.

"How do you know? " she asked.

"I found a stamp on the bottom of my foot that said "donor-conceived" -- no I didn't say that, but I wanted to because jesus christ what an awkward question.

So I explained how I'd found out all that jazz. What is hilarious is that I could tell that there were like four people sitting in seat around us glancing over. This is such a curious topic for so many. I thought for a moment, "perhaps I should get on the PA and do a public service announcement...you know, educate people," but I controlled myself.

Then came the inevitable so "how do you feel about it?"

And....I shared what I thought, what those of you who read this blog know, that I'm not to thrilled with the fact that I am disconnected from half my genetic lineage. I shared that the nature of my birth, which is  typically such a wondrous thing, is steeped in secrets and shame and that I have carried this loss, this heavy heavy burden for many years and it makes me at first very angry but then eventually depressed.

Boom!! - you would have thought I slapped her across the face...and I did not I promise :).  In fact, I am being a little more frank and grating with how I spoke here because in person, I'm actually quite diplomatic and agreeable; my delivery much less harsh.

And then she said what most of the parents I have spoken to say:

"I'm sorry you feel that way" - with and emphasis on the "you."

----------
I have to take a moment here, because writing this down, recollecting the moment, actually makes me so darn upset.  I get many, many comments on my blog from the parents of donor offspring. One comment on one of my most read posts: "A Mother Considering Artificial Insemination" from a father echos the same sentiment as my flight partner. He wrote:

"I am truly sorry for how tormented you are by your origin, and I hope my son never feels that pain; if he does, I want to be there with him to confront it. "

It's as if the subtext of both of the above commentaries is that the way I feel is unique.  They are sorry that I'm not satisfied with the status quo but that is me and "if" their child feels that way it will be unfortunate.

Now I'm a very logical and analytical person and I truly try to be objective in my analysis of topics in general. In reading so many donor conceived and adoptees blogs, talking to them via email, reading the scientific literature and engaging the community in general, I have to say if there is one thing of which I can be absolutely certain it's:

THIS ISN'T JUST THE WAY I FEEL

There is such a common sense of loss and seeking among every single child conceived through anonymous artificial insemination that it's almost a badge of identity. It's not to say that there aren't varying levels of these negative feelings and that some parents have better equip their children to deal with these feelings, but they are still there. They are, in every way, unavoidable.

It frightens me that so many parents of donor-conceived children seem to be in denial of the potentially negative and hurtful consequences of their decisions. This is not to generalize and say that all parents are unaware but there is definitely an overarching trend of detachment from what's going on here.

I'd also say their is a direct correlation between the level of anonymity in the donation and sense of loss of the child. So the less anonymity (as in, say, a situation where a donor is a known to the family and has actually engaged the child once or twice) the less the loss. But the loss is still there in this case - and more importantly this is not the case in most AI scenarios. They are mostly anonymous.

It's as if the very same detachment that occurs when a man masturbates in a cup and sends genetic material along to a destination unknown or a young woman undergoes an egg extraction with little knowledge of their recipient, seeps into the entire process. A "contagious detachment" pervades the entire process as parents and doctors alike detach from the very real consequences of this decision to focus solely on the delivery of a child.

If there are any children conceived through AI reading this that disagree with me, that feel total peace and happiness and at absolutely no loss for their circumstance I wholeheartedly and openly request your commentary.

But alas, I have serious doubts that will occur as I know in my heart, this isn't just the way I feel.

Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilyParentingInternetPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertility

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret

I visited the donor sibling registry yesterday and as usual, discovered nothing new or revelatory. It's starting to be one of those meaningless rituals we all have, like looking in the same jewelry store window on a street you walk down everyday. Nothing you can have, just nice to look and dream.

I ended up looking at all the video clips of Wendy Kramer and her son, Ryan, on everything from Oprah to GMA. Man this pair get some serious airplay. I do appreciate the work that they have done with the DSR and the exposure they have given the cause but I still find myself getting annoyed. I questioned myself, ----why were these 10-20 minutes of the two talking so infuriating? I mean they are doing a great thing, right?

 In one segment Ryan is described as a "rocket scientist"  and Wendy as a "trailblazer." God, you have to love TV, soon we'll have AI "super heros." Ok, Ok,  I know we need speakers out there and we need a core Web site, but there is something inside me that cringes at some of these clips.  I'm not saying this to bash the pair in any way but something here is a little artificial. The donor-conceived "story" needs more voices.  It shouldn't be dominated or owned by one (or two) core voices.

Just as I was contemplating this anger, a note popped up that I had to pay my DSR dues. The subscription fees on the DSR have gone up to $50 a year  but you can also pay a one time fee of $150. Images of a really bad infomercial popped into my head..."are you looking for half your genetic heritage?...so you wonder who you are?...fret no more....get a year of endless searching for your father for just $50 or.... order now and get our limited time offer to search for a lifetime for just $150!"

With more than 30,000 connected on the site...that adds up to a lot of money. Curious, I started looking through the tax returns publicly available on the site. I didn't realize that they took a salary, albeit reasonable $80,000 for Wendy and around $6,000 for Randy plus all the office and online fees and coverage for travel around $11,000. Somehow I thought this was all being done out of their pockets but I guess that would not have been feasible. It's become a career, at least for Wendy. Still, however much this made me less grateful and put a chink in the "saintly" image I had of the DSR, I guess there is no other way to keep it going.

All this reviewed and weighed, I was STILL irritated.  It's not as if I want them to go away, so what is irking me?

I think part of it is that these stories, Wendy and Ryan traveling around the world giving speeches, the movies with pretty actresses like Annette Benning and J. Lo are the appealing, easily-exploited side of artificial insemination. In these made for TV stories, everyone is aware,. There is strife but family and friends are mostly supportive. The families, though a little taxed, operate mostly functionally. There is a far more complex and painful underbelly to the donor offspring experience that is not explored or given a voice.

What gets barely mentioned is that much of artificial insemination is kept a secret. A secret, that like a tangling ivy grows through a family and holds people back. A secret that can't be evaluated or studied in the myriad reports and recommendations out there. The numbers can't be documented but I would argue those hidden in shame and silence are the majority.

When there is divorce (as I believe is the case with the Kramers) then things get revealed. Yes, there are some lone "DI Dad's" out there supporting the cause, but they are few and far between.  For that reason, I don't think their open and accepting viewpoints are truly reflective of reality. Most men, including my father, are not so keen to announce they are incapable of having children.

And, yes, I will admit I am talking here about heterosexual families, because, clearly secrets of this nature aren't possible when you have parents of the same sex. Somewhere along the line, the child would figure it out. I think this is an ideal dynamic because it forces these parents to truly consider the loss to the child and at the very least come to some common agreement on what will be said and explained. I'm not saying it isn't less difficult for children of gay and lesbian parents to deal with, I'm saying the scenario is one less ripe for the growth of dysfunction and secrecy.

But, many, many of us inhabit this darker side of AI, where it was used as a band aid for a very deep wound a couple endured when they discovered they were infertile. We find out, often in tense situations where one parent is angered at the other and we are not supposed to tell people. Often, not all of our family knows. It's shameful, its a failure, its something of which our parents are not proud. It's also part of the fabric of who we are.

I have a younger brother and he doesn't know. My aunts don't know. My uncles don't know. Family to whom I have no biological relationship tell me I look them in, have their gifts and qualities and I just laugh inside.

My mother told me in a chaotic moment  and I am not even sure my father knows that I know. She says it would "destroy " my father. To be honest, I don't really care so much about how my father feels, its the situation with my brother that feels like someone is ripping my friggin heart out. He has a very adversarial  relationship with my Dad at the moment (as many young boys becoming men do) and my mother is concerned  that this would add fuel to a fire.

I post for him on the DSR, hoping I can find his donor and spare him some of my own loss. I would give up finding my own if I could find his for him. I can't imagine telling him without having something to share, otherwise it's just delivering a gut wrenching loss.

Is it my place to tell him? I feel like I am betraying him. If I do havoc will breakout in my family and my mother will be in pieces. When I found out in my early twenties I remember being almost numb to the idea. I had never really gotten along with my Dad or connected to him so it wasn't a huge "loss" as I don't think we ever had a real  bond. The part of it that felt terrifying was to hear my brother and I had different donors. I felt ripped from him, my little brother, my pal. 

As I contemplated the thought for the first time it was like an appendage was being ripped from me in some way. I felt sudden intense anger at my mother, who in all her clamor to have a child couldn't think enough to find means to use the same sperm. I felt protective of this little boy, who in my arms I held at seven years old when he was born, pretending he was my baby doll and fighting with my mom to give him his bottles. God, I love him so much and..... I'm suddenly incapable of protecting him from what I know to be an intense feeling of loss ...outside of keeping a painful secret. I felt my mother's actions had separated us and it was unbearable.  At that time I could not think about it without having trouble breathing. Only a few years later can I even talk about it and here, without my identity, its still a secret.

These stories aren't told on Oprah or in the movies.

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